Yankee Success Matches City of Excess

By , Senior sports columnist of The Christian Science Monitor

Sometimes all seems right in the sports world.

And so it is these days, not just because the Yankees are winning, but because they are winning at a glorious record pace, a stunning 67-21 as of yesterday. This includes victories in 16 of their last 18 games. Might this team be as good as the storied 1927 Yankees who won 110 games, or even the 1906 Cubs who hold the record - unlikely as it seems that the Cubs would hold a record for anything other than futility and most broken hearts - for most wins in a season at 116?

Well, possibly. We'll see. In a way, one hopes not, because the old records are the best records. Baseball is all about nostalgia, and so the fact that a mark set 92 summers ago still stands is one of the comforting aspects of life.

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Regardless, there is something inordinately electrifying about the 1998 Yankees, currently running game-for-game with the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates for best record ever at this point in the season.

What is causing the national roar is that it's the New York Yankees doing it. It wouldn't be close to the same thing if it were the Diamondbacks or the Devil Rays or the Mariners or the Astros.

It's because New York City is the mecca. For everything. One of the most arrogant songs ever written, to the ears of millions, is "New York, New York," which snootily proclaims that "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere." What really frosts us is that it's true.

We measure ourselves by New York, the city that never sleeps. Dang, our town sleeps, so we're already behind and the day is just starting. New York is about biggest and best and then bragging about it. Yes it is, too.

Understand it didn't become top dog because of the quality of life there or for its beauty or for its cleanliness and possibly not even for the legendary friendliness of the citizenry. It's just that it has an air, an edge, a style, a way of carrying itself. It's a town where all things are possible.

We don't pay attention to New York because we want to. We do it because we have to. The city demands it of us.

It's a city of extremes, of extraordinary mood changes, of incomprehensible achievement and whopping failure. Highs are always higher in New York. Lows are always lower. It is excessive and hyperbolic to the core.

Ergo, our focus on the Yankees, a swashbuckling team this year playing with the kind of take-no-prisoners attitude we expect in New York. They have the second-highest payroll in baseball, about $63.5 million with the average player making more than $2.4 mil a year.

That the Baltimore Orioles have a team payroll some $5 million higher is one of life's inexplicable mysteries. The Orioles trail the Yankees by 25 games. This proves that money talks, sometimes it screams and yells, but in the Orioles' case, it only whimpers and chirps.

It is incredibly exciting to be in the Bronx these days. Pitchers David Cone, fragile but excellent, and David Wells, who stopped Yankee hearts when he injured his big toe at home, are the two best in the American League. Everyday players, such as right-fielder Paul O'Neill and shortstop Derek Jeter, are redefining excellence. And this is really scary: A lot of what the Yankees have been doing recently has been without two of their best - and highest paid - players, Bernie Williams (top-priced Yankee at $8.2 million this year) and Chili Davis ($4.3 million), who are returning from injuries.

But what doesn't fit the mold in a me-first town is the Yankees are a team, playing for the most part unselfishly. That's completely out of character. Albert Belle would last about a New York minute on this team. That's why Wade Boggs and Dwight Gooden are former Yankees. Manager Joe Torre is demonstrating full control over the often discordant Bronx Zoo where the animals typically act out and management is reduced to wringing its hands. Even owner George Steinbrenner is generally behaving.

So as the Yankee season soars to tall-building heights, and the Bronx Bombers head into a decided home-field advantage from here on in, our eyes will be riveted on New York City. We can't help it.

* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is looneyd@csps.com

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